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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Problems this week with headmasters, oboists and emails,
for classical music's agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

I am a teacher in a middle school and the students are lovely: polite and interested. The problem is the headmaster. He has a strange habit of commenting on the teaching staff over public platforms ie during assembly. It's become a sort of personal session at which he launches attacks on various members of staff. He does not mention names, but it's all still rather nasty. I can safely say that each of us have in turn found ourselves the target. Without names being mentioned, though, it's hard to object without sounding paranoid. How can we get him to change his behaviour?


Dear anon,

He sounds a completely horrible headmaster, and I'm not surprised that you and your colleagues feel fed-up. Personally, I would sprinkle his soup with a little-known asiatic poison, but (as a paid-up member of Agony Aunts Anonymous, or AAA) I am not, repeat not allowed to advise you to do the same, on pain of being paddled by a ring of writers with spiked mouses (or mice).

What AAA would propose I suggest, in fact, is probably something mealy-mouthed like: request an interview with the school board at which you air your corporate grievances at this underhand treatment, and this is not, in fact, such a bad idea.

'Heel, Buster!!!' Photo by Keith Bramich

Heads can seem so all-important, but they can still be brought to heel ('Heel, Buster!!!') by their board of governors. But make sure you have (some) colleague support or you may wind up alienating head irrevocably, in which case you may be the one avec poison in soup ...


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I am very much offended by your comment on oboes...! Irritable??!! and Looking funny while playing?!! String players are just ... well ... sooo ... never mind! Oboes rule !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mel from Stoneleigh

Dear Mel,

Yes, oboes rule!!!!!!!!! -- and that can be the problem, for the rest of the band !!!!!!!!!!

Sorry to have upset you, but, if it helps at all, I assure you I didn't have oboists like you in mind. I know some charming-looking oboists (though all wind players look a bit silly puffing away compared to strings or pianists, something to do with their instruments obscuring or contorting their facial expressions). I have met you of course, and know that you personally are exceptionally pretty and very petite, but you'd still show off your good looks better on a string or keyboard instrument (sorry ...)

But really, even if I'm right about that, why does it matter? I mean, you didn't choose the oboe because you thought, hey, I'd look cute in that, as if it was a cool new outfit, did you??? I assume you picked it for one of the usual reasons: the appeal of the sound, the attraction of music itself, some wonderful piece that you heard, or (frankly pushy) parental bullying. Right????

But to return to the blooming oboe (which in fact you probably already have, in a huff!!!!!!!!)

Principal oboes (especially male ones) are often the prima donnas of the orchestra. In one orch I used to play in, the principal oboe was the only one flying club class, for example; and in another orchestra I can think of the principal oboe always pushed his way to the front of the queue, whether it's for hotel room keys, subsistance money abroad, anything. It's even true that in some American orchestra principal oboes get paid more than even the leader, because it's such an important, difficult instrument (and boy do they know it!!!!) John Georgiadis, in his really excellent memoirs (which will, I hope, soon be published) refers to 'frequent' ego-busting strife in the LSO between principal oboes and leaders, the latter category which for about a decade included himself.

So, if I'm up the creek without paddle on this one, at least, I'm not paddling alone ...

All best,

Ask Alice

Dear Alice (and Robert, who asked!)

You never listened to the NPR station at school? It's Beethoven's Piano Sonate Pathétique, Op 13. You must have been practicing at that time. I also remember that show because he once did the show from his hospital bed coughing and hacking away.

J9 from the Big Apple

(Thanks, J9!!!!!!!!!!! It is a fabulous piece. XXA)

Copyright © 28 May 2004 Alice McVeigh, Worcestershire UK

[Please accept our apologies if you missed Ask Alice last week. This was due to operational and technical difficulties, and in particular, vanishing emails (!!), Alice's visit to hospital for asthma and Keith's visit to a local hostelry for alcohol. Alice is away next week too, and returns on 11 June.]



Ask Alice

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